<p>(by Juntas, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)</p>
  • Europe /
  • Portugal /
  • Tomar

An itinerary that aims to discover Tomar, a small town with a strong connection to the ancient Templar Order.

Church Santa Maria do Olival
(by Sanrafae, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
(by Sanrafae, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Sanrafae, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

This small, ancient-looking church, with its brick façade and Gothic style, immediately draws attention to times gone by. Yet, perhaps because of its ancient aura or the peculiar carvings on the stone, one immediately feels that these walls preserve secrets unchanged over time. 

Santa Maria do Olival was built in the second half of the 13th century for Provincial Master Gualdim Pais of the Order of the Temple, known as the Templar Order. The church served as a burial place for the Knights Templar of Tomar and later for the Knights of the Order of Christ, which succeeded in the 14th century. 

To explain this renowned organisation’s background, it is necessary to take a step back in time and discover the origin of the Templars.

The birth of the Order has its roots in the Holy Land, the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, currently divided between the State of Israel and the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority.

At that time, the church claimed Jerusalem as a Christian domain and, after sensitising European rulers to the issue, united them under one banner, the Christian one. Pope Urban II launched the first military expedition in 1095 CE, which resulted in a savage and endless war that pitted the Christian forces of the West (today’s Europe) against the Muslim kingdoms of the East. 

The site of the conflict was the current territories of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt, mainly concentrated in that portion of land sacred to few religions, the Holy Land.

Pilgrims from all over Europe trodden this land’s routes. Driven by Christian faith, hundreds of thousands set out on a long journey to Jerusalem, the holy destination. However, this crossroads of people intent on purifying their souls was often attacked and plundered along the way. Such events were the apparent motivation for the birth of the Templar Order, to defend the holy places and pilgrims from any external threat. 

So it was that in 1119 CE, amid wars between Christian and Islamic forces, when a group of knights decided to found the original nucleus of the Templar Order, giving themselves the task of ensuring the safety of the many European pilgrims who continued to visit Jerusalem.

The order was formalised in 1129 CE, assuming a monastic rule, with the support of Bernard of Clairvaux, an influential French monk and abbot. The dual role of monks and fighters, which characterised the Templar order in its mature years, naturally aroused perplexity in Christian circles. Nevertheless, through the years, the Templars acquired so much power that they became one of the most influential organisations of their times, surpassing the political strength of duchies, kings, queens, and even the pope. Their expansion was inevitable, leading the Templar order to possess lands and strongholds, throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, just as in this case in Tomar. 

Today, it is possible to see this church, which brings back memories of those bygone days, characterised by this curious combination of religiosity and military power of the Templars.

In the church lies the tomb of Gualdim Pais, Master at the head of the Order’s provincial dominion. In addition, the church still preserves the original stele from 1195 CE, on which Gothic inscriptions are visible.

The present building is primarily the result of a reconstruction completed in the 13th century in Early Gothic style. The main façade has a rose window and a simple portal with few archivolts. The church has three naves covered by a wooden roof, and the columns supporting the arches have no capitals. A Gothic cross vault stands in the main chapel in the apse. The small rose window on the east wall is shaped like a pentagram, renewed templar symbol.

The building was restored in the 16th century, and a few chapels were added in the southern part of the church. There are notable elements such as the Virgin and Child (early 16th century) in the main altar or the funeral monument of Diogo Pinheiro, the first bishop of Funchal, a work full of finesse dating back to the Renaissance (1525) that can be admired on the wall of the main chapel.


1. Church Santa Maria do Olival

2. Gualdim Pais’ Statue

3. The stronghold

4. Convent of Christ